This one goes out to all the expats who have ever struggled with their official migration. The following is a pain-staking story some of us will be all too familiar with.
In the past few weeks, some of us have been following the news surrounding the migratory situation of three foreign citizens in Peru – Korina Rivadeneira, Eyal Berkover, and Krayg Peña – with mixed feelings.
“These cases represent less than 1 percent of the more than 1,200 cases involving sanctioned migrants in Peru.”
The National Superintendency of Migration in Peru has sanctioned Rivadeneira and Berkover whose cases we know more about after the press and the accused parties made them public, as a result of some alleged irregularities in their migratory statuses. Although less information has been made public regarding Peña’s case, he seems to be going through a similar situation. These cases represent less than 1 percent of the more than 1,200 cases involving sanctioned migrants in Peru, according to the National Superintendency of Migration.
Rivadeneira, Berkover, and Peña’s situations, nonetheless, have brought into question whether the relationship between the Peruvian state and the approximately 100,000 foreigners living in Peru is one of justice and fairness.
I do not intend to discuss who is right or wrong in the aforementioned cases.
Only the defendants, their lawyers, and the state are fully acquainted with the situation. However, as the holder of a Peruvian passport who has been an immigrant in seven different countries over the last 18 years, I would like to reflect, based on my own experience, on the way one could proceed when dealing with a host state in times of distress. This will hopefully allow us to add one more perspective to the way we understand the relationship a state has with its foreign population.
My application for the extension of my research visa in South Africa has recently been rejected. The rejection letter stated that I did not submit one of the required documents: a South African police clearance certificate. My immediate reaction in front of a nervous immigration office supervisor was to show him two different sets of requirements that proved I had complied with everything that had been asked of me.
These stated that I only had to submit 1) police clearance certificates of countries I had resided in for 12 months or longer, except for South Africa; and 2) a South African police clearance certificate if I had been a resident of this country for 12 months or longer, which I had not.
Moreover, not only had I complied with the listed requirements, having learned from previous experiences, before submitting my documents I had also called and visited the office responsible for such applications. In order not to get surprised with an additional requirement not on the list later, I went through the checklist together with an immigration officer.
Thus, despite having collected and submitted all required documents on time, I was still rejected.
In addition to all the emotional and psychological distress that this entails, I will have to undergo additional stress as part of the process of appeal, which involves extra financial costs, collecting all the required documents once again, investing time and energy to undertake the process for a second time, and recovering any missed working hours on weekends and at nights.
Moreover, I am unable to leave the country until the process of appeal is over, under threat of a 5-year ban on re-entering South Africa. In practice this means that I must automatically forego all academic conferences and field research abroad, which could have a negative effect on my career; that the possibility of flying to Europe to be with my beloved one for the birth of our first child is at risk; and that I would be unable to visit any family and friends for a while.
If you ask me how I feel about this, I will tell you that I have no words to describe it.
However, if you ask me what I am doing about it, I can give you a concrete answer: first and foremost I am looking for all the possible means to be on good terms with the host state. The rejection letter was emotionally destructive but a friend and colleague, Dr. Agbedahin, gave me the right words to help me approach the situation differently: “Do not forget that it is you who needs them.” In other words, the way my relationship with the host state is now will also define the way it will be later on.
The key is, therefore, to take a deep breath and move on to finding a peaceful and legal way out of this unfair situation.
A lesson from Rivadeneira, Berkover, Peña, and my situation combined – which are not even half as frustrating as what most immigrants around the world are going through – would be to not try to first defy the host state and then comply with its demands only once this has failed. Foreigners in a difficult migratory situation, whether fair or not, could first try to find the means to be in good standing with the host state, and only once they have succeeded to look for ways to propose changes and improvements to the system. I personally and professionally question the very notion of state. But, all I can do for now is to try to be on the best possible terms with it so I could challenge it more effectively in the future.
About the Author:
Luis Escobedo is a postdoctoral research fellow at UFS Institute for Reconciliation and Social Justice (IRSJ) in South Africa. His research focuses primarily on the application of discourse and visual analysis, postcolonial and feminist approaches, and race theory in the study of racism and whiteness, ideology, and violence in postcolonial and post-apartheid contexts, particularly in Latin America and Africa.